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Piracy and tsunamis add to sailors’ woes

It's not just stormy weather seafarers have to fear

Delegates of the apostleship of the sea after their regional meeting Delegates of the apostleship of the sea after their regional meeting
  • Francis Kuo, Taichung
  • Taiwan
  • May 20, 2011
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It seems strange that international forces can act very quickly and strike somewhat effectively against Libya strongman Moammar Gaddafi, but similar military actions cannot wipe out rampant piracy in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

The problem regarding Somali pirates is a political and complicated one. It will only be solved after the civil war ends and the creation of a stable government, according to Father Bruno Ciceri, the Rome-based international director of the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS).

Governments or international organizations consider their own political interests first when solving problems overseas, he said.

Oil and gas have high priority, “but unfortunately, Somalia has neither of these to offer,” he added.

Until a solution is found, the Italian priest is urging the international community to “take appropriate and effective action” with its military presence in that part of the world to protect seafarers.

The AOS of East and Southeast Asia regions made the same appeal in its second regional meeting that concluded in central Taiwan recently.

It chose “piracy” as its main topic since tens of thousands of wives and children in the East and Southeast Asia regions are concerned about their seafaring husbands or fathers, who work under the constant threat of piracy.

The delegates discussed several topics related to the piracy theme, such as: attacks by pirates; ship owners’ responses; piracy and hostages; and how to assist hostages and their families.

According to international NGO figures, there are 1.37 million seafarers around the world. Of the 10 AOS member countries in the East and Southeast Asia region, the Philippines has the largest number with at least 3,000-4,000 seafarers.

Ecoterra International, an organization which monitors piracy, reported that Somali pirates were holding at least 35 ships and more than 650 hostages as of mid-December.

Unofficial figures reveal that 2009 was the most active year for Somali pirates with more than 200 attacks, in which 68 ships were taken. Ransoms paid out were believed to total more than US$50 million.

The AOS is very concerned about the region’s seafarers and their families because “we know through our counseling and other efforts related to this subject that piracy and hijacking are very painful experiences, which can cause damaging and lasting effects on the hostages and their families,” Father Ciceri said.

Father Eliseo Napiere, AOS national director in Taiwan, cited a case when a Taiwanese fishing vessel was hijacked by pirates off Tanzania, and the Taiwan government was forced took handle the matter through the AOS because of diplomatic obstacles.

Father Mario Bonfaini, AOS chaplain of Keelung Port, meanwhile, has not encountered such a case in his over 10 years’ service. However, he has counseled seafarers who have faced another maritime threat -- tsunamis.

Two months ago, at the request of a Japanese company, he went aboard a cargo ship to offer counseling to a crew shaken by what they saw when the tsunami that followed a massive earthquake off northeast Japan.

“Everyone was in severe shock after seeing a wall of water up to 15 meters,” he said.

Kim Soon-Ho, the AOS chief in Japan said the tsunami was catastrophic for those in the fishing industry.

About 90 percent of fishing vessels and 309 fish farms were destroyed, she said.

This and the piracy problem not only threaten the lives of seafarers but also the livelihoods of their families, she said.

The Catholic AOS organizations have a mission to care for crew and families who encounter such threats. However, funds to help them do this are scarce since fund-raising is difficult for what are minority groups, many country heads lament.

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